Saturday, December 4, 2010

Dark Humor in Person

The trip to Durg had been planned for months, as my wife’s nephew was getting married in November. New clothes for everybody, including a very reluctant husband, were bought and the children forced into traditional dresses. Not that they minded.

Despite apprehensions of the reported chaos. we flew from the spanking new Delhi’s T-3 terminal, with its squeaking clean conveyor belts for people and baggage. The carpet attracted comments from awe to “ what a waste of money”. The plane was on time, and we took off on time, landing at Raipur absolutely on time. The cars took us away to Durg, an hour and a half away to safely ensconce us in a very nice hotel ( Hotel Avalon). That hotel was a huge surprise. The owner has impeccable taste in paintings, and the walls were adorned with brilliant European style reproductions or photographs, which caught one’s eye.

The marriage was rounds of events and functions- a truly Punjabi wedding, with a twist of Chhatisgarh flavor. The girls enjoyed themselves thoroughly. The return journey was a pain, as Kingfisher flight was delayed by 3 hours, and we landed in Delhi at 2 in the morning. Not a good idea.

I counted Durg as a smaller town of India, and though it is compared to Delhi, all the facilities are available. Raipur is a bigger town, and needs much more civic improvements. All in all a much satisfying experience.

The icing on the cake was: I met Omkar Das Manikpuri a.k.a “ Natha” on the plane. He was one seat away, and between us was his secretary; we chatted amicably away during the flight back. It was a pleasure to see a theatre actor from a small town, being noticed and felicitated by the public at large. Here is hoping many successes for Omkar.

Delhi Chronicles

Now that Commonwealth Games are over, and so are the Asiad, it may be time to look back , to see what happened. The opening ceremony was awesome. Compared to the Olympics, which I described as a soulless event, this one was a heart warming experience. We did not have the synchronised acrobatics, in fact our troops seemed to have a life of their own. In total ignorance of what the others were doing, the Punjabi Bhangra-wallas had a life of their own. The mass painting of mehendi brought out lots of “aahs”. A very human experience, with all its foibles and imperfections. Give me this any day.

The airport metro line did not start up on time. It looks like an awful animal, an eyesore, a long snaking beast working its way through the innards of the city and going underground to cause god knows what havoc, and presumably emerging somewhere in the guts of the new terminal. I do not think I will ride this beast.

Odds and Ends

Howard Jacobson wins the Man Booker with The Finkler Question. I will read this book on my iPod. This was the first break out f Delhi where I did not take any physical book. All my books were on my iPod. Times they are achangin’.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Dark humor at its best

Pipali Live, till now famous for being produced by Aamir Khan, has other things going for it too. This is the first dark humor storyline coming out of Bollywood, and is indicative of the maturing tastes of the film makers, audience, and the censors. The story of a farmer, facing possibility of a suicide, and abetted by the media is an excruciating reflection of our times. Despite the attempt to exaggerate, the irony of the media and politicians playing to the public seems all too real. In more ways than one, the movie reflects the tragedy of India’s growth story. The dispossession of the dispossessed is a continuous refrain in the background, as are the stories of India’s growth capturing the limelight. If the governance does not wake up to these contradictions in practical hard ways, rather than playing to the gallery with inclusive growth tag lines, our country is going to fall on hard times. Will movies like these nudge the dead consciousness of our bureaucracy and political leadership? I hope they do, as the consequences of keeping swathes of people out of the progress charts will be terrible. My favorite line from the movie- the babu’s automatic reflex of resorting to the “ lal bahadur” a.k.a the hand pump, to solve all problems.

Delhi Chronicles

Delhi’s Commonwealth Games seem to be on a roll, despite a shaky start. We suffered months of traffic jams, with the development activities going on frenetically all over Delhi, rushing to beat the October 3rd deadline. Connaught Place was unvisitable for months, even as newer and swankier metro lines rushed to completion. The airport line did not manage to open on time though- I wonder who is going to use this line after the Games- most Delhi wallahs can afford the taxi money which gets them closer to the departure terminal, than the metro will. At the end of the day we have nicely metalled roads, at least on the routes the visitors will use, new street lights on all major roads, a make over for Connaught Place, and some nice ads. There are the Games too, but I for one, can do without them. The trouble we have been through, is just not worth it. I am sure the money could have been used for a much better cause than trying to impress members of the ex-British empire.

Odds and Ends

This year’s Booker Shortlist is:

Parrot and Olivier in America by Peter Carey (Faber and Faber)

Room by Emma Donoghue (Picador - Pan Macmillan)

In a Strange Room by Damon Galgut (Atlantic Books)

The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson (Bloomsbury)

The Long Song by Andrea Levy (Headline Review)

C byTom McCarthy (Jonathan Cape – Random House)

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Kid with an Agenda

Bill Bryson’s The Thunderbolt Kid starts off with a hilarious “ I was born in Des Moines. Somebody had to.” It is an account of his journey through childhood, which is why, I suppose, I saw the book in the travelogue section of the British Council Library . Seems stretching it a bit, but I have seen worse cataloging. Plays turn up in the poetry section. British Library (sic) guys – wake up!

A romp through a small town in America in the late 50’s and 60’s is entertaining and educational. The liberties allowed to kids then seem astounding nowadays. Smoking at home, nude shows, and drinking unlimited beer seems to be in easy reach of an twelve year old. Amazing freedom.

Bill describes his early childhood with details of the town and the house he lived in. His exploration of the big bad world begins early, as he stumbles along his way, as most of us did. Surprisingly he was not of scholarly bent of mind, but nevertheless turned out prodigious amount of writing. This gives all of us hope. If this kid could write books, hey, maybe we should give it a shot too.

One also gets to know about Bill’s friends, all of whom seem to be terribly exciting, quite unlike my childhood friends. Steven Katz, the almost alcoholic friend of Bill’s, also turns up as the lead character in Bill’s other other – A Walk in the Mountains. Bryson settles down in England after college, but judging by his writing , he does get around a bit.

The book is an easy, highly entertaining read, with Bill Bryson’s brand of humour making this one of the fastest book I zipped through. Highly recommended.

Odds and Ends

We made a quick trip trip to Glasshouse on the Ganges, a resort 23 kms upstream of Rishikesh. A wonderful quiet resort run by the Nimarana group, turned out to be an idyllic short stay get away. Just what the doctor ordered.

The river runs a short stroll away, and there is an handy cove with a small beach, so one can take a discreet dip to wash away the Delhi’s sins. The river looks quite vicious here, as the silly rafters demonstrated, jetting uncontrollably downstream. Looked like the control freaks from Delhi’s BPOs’ were not too happy at being at the mercy of the river. We watched them, comfortably ensconsced in our verandah, drinking that early morning cuppa, and wondering what makes people punish themselves. The sun was scalding, so only a morning or late evening jaunt to the beach was possible.

The rest of the time was spent on wondering what to eat. The food was – as my daughter would put it neatly – awesome. We suspended our calories consciousness for the chef’s delights. Amongst the good Indian food, he threw a continental dish, which was always irresistible. The breakfast and lunch was invariably followed by a snooze or a comfortable read on the veradah’s sofa. I managed to finish of Michael Fray’s uproarious – Towards the end of the morning in quick time.

We have decided to go back in the Autumn.

Delhi Chronicles

Delhi is unbearably hot nowadays. 44C shows up on the car thermometer dial regularly. ( The thermometer always shows the outside temperature, never the temperature in the cabin- wonder why). I do not remember these many days at 44C. Global warming?

The preparation for commonwealth games seem to be rising to a crescendo. Desperation is showing up on the streets in massively dug up Connaught Place inner circle, metro’s frantic attempt to get the airport line going, and the recklessness of the workers rushing to finish the stadia. The government has sucked up a lot of money to “ beautify” the city- roads are relaid, newly painted signposts tell the directions more clearly, and the new street lamps look snazzy. Which leaves one wondering if this is all worth it. The money could easily be spent on the people living on the street, but I guess that one is for the economists to dissect after the games are over. I have a dirty feeling this splurge is going to give us a lot of pain. On the other hand I see the minimum wages climbing , and more health care for the needy - which is a much needed initiative from the government.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Glenda Guest wins the Commonwealth Foundadtion award

This is a quick post to bring to your notice, that Glenda Guest has won the Commonwealth Foundaton award for best first book.  I found it delightful to talk to Glenda and her husband on Wednesday ( see post below), so it is with pleasure I note that she has won the award.  I do hope that books by the three authors I met, do become available at bookshops in India.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Good Physicist

Richard Feynman’s book Surely you are joking Mr. Feynman, is a sort of biography of Mr. Feynman, a much celebrated physicst. The book is a ramble of Mr. Feynman’s stagger through life, and puts together a series of events in chronological order of the author growing up in America. Starting with his earliest childhood memories, it runs through the mid nineties, telling us about how a physicst ses the world. Mr. Feynman’s expereinces are broad and varied, and the book runs us through varies incidents, expereinces, and thoughts on a romp through his life.

A few interesting chapters include his witness account of the first atomic bomb test, his views on education in Brazil, and his down to earth description of parity violition ( perhaps one of the most significant discoveries in modern physics). His views on education in Brazil resounds stunningly with that in India. Students will memorize physics ( or any other matter) , and spew it out, without any innate understanding of the subject. As an IITian student I saw this in many many toppers during my college days. It was not important that they get an insight into the subject; what was important that they get that A grade. Some of these guys are professors now, and I shudder to think of their students. This approach has been taken to extremes by today’s coaching classes, where the grind ensures that the student is able to recognize any pattern of question which can come up, mostly by rote, and thus answer these in the exams. The spirit of human enquiry is killed before these guys get into college.

Anyway, enough of my rant; back to the book. The most surprising part of the book is the style. Unlike a polished fiction writer, the style here was matter of fact, with minimal distractions and without a nod to creative writing. It is straight from the guts, no nonsense stuff which takes a bit of getting used to. But after the initial shcok wears off, one gets used to the abrupt style and can find it captivating. Some themes are more amenable to this sort of narratives. So one can find the chapter on choosing school books for California counties quite interesting in this style. Feynman’s disgust on how school books are selected is well expressed in the brief expletives he uses to end the chapter. Very entertaining. And quite informative too. If this is the way a capatilist society selects its school text books, not unlike how it selects its Oscar winners, I should not lament too much about CBSE textbooks, and what they have not taught my child.
So, in the end, read this book if are a fan of the Mr. Feynman. I would stay away from this if I am in the mood for some good fiction reading.

Odds and Ends

Slightly late for a happy spring equinox, when in early April we are heating up close to 40C. We seem to have quietly forgotten the climate change aka global warming agenda, at the back of a unusual winter. The faux pax by the UN panel on Himalayan glaciers melting did not help matters either. It is difficult for the US congress to discuss spending extra money on controlling green house gases, while a blizzard is on full swing outside. So the climate control agenda seems to be going for a hibernation, at least till the next big summer, which does not seem to be far off. I wish the legislative guys would make up their minds. FACT 1: Carbon dioxide emitted in vast quatities is not going to be good for mankind. FACT 2: We are burning carbon to fuel our lifestyle. It does not take a genius to put this two together, and come up with a plan. Sure it is going to cost money, but so did the sheningians of all the fancy bankers. I am sure it is going to cost much less to bail us out of trouble in climate change than it took to rescue the fat cats.

Now that the UK elections are off and away, I loved the poster labour used to open its campaign with. It’s called the Bruiser Brown poster. You can download a copy from the Guardian website, and make it your screen saver. Your collegues and partners will love you for this.

Delhi Chronicles

This week the Commonwealth prize for authors is on a gig around Delhi. There was one in my neighbourhood, at Crosswords, Shoppers Stop Mall, Raja Garden. I was quite surprised that such an event was held in West Delhi, which is known more for its gastronomical tastes, rather than literary ones. I can understand KFC flourishing here, but Crosswords seems to be doing fine too; which is what the Crosswords manager told me. Well, surprises never cease. In gratitude I promptly went around the next day, and bought books costing me an obsecene amount. But, never mind, all for a good cause.

Glenda Guest, Michael Crummey, and Marie Heese were present, discussing “ Are there any rules for writing fiction?” Marie opened the topic, by listing three issues, which I have forgotten, and the other writers contributed. All the authors read from their works, and then the Q & A round finished off the program. As I was sitting in the front row, I could not see the audience, which apparantely waned and waxed with time. When the event finsihed and I looked around, I was not surprised at the small number of people left at the end. I hope there were more somewhere in the middle. Anyway, thanks to Crosswords and Commonwealth Foundation in making this happen. I am sure if the event was advertised more, the audience would have been bigger.